Espionage and covert communication networks have existed for millennia. While modern technology makes spying seem sophisticated, ancient civilizations were already developing ingenious techniques to conceal secret messages right under the noses of adversaries. Surprisingly, some of the most effective methods relied on hiding messages in mundane, unfashionable objects like clothing and accessories.

The Strategic Value of Espionage in Antiquity

Spying provided crucial military and political advantages in the ancient world. Rulers relied on espionage to:

Effective espionage could mean the difference between victory and defeat in war or success and failure in politics. That made concealing spy networks a top priority.

The Challenges of Ancient Covert Messaging

Ancient spies faced considerable challenges in safely communicating secret intelligence:

To overcome these hurdles, ingenious techniques were developed to hide messages in plain sight.

Hiding Messages in Clothing and Accessories

One effective solution was concealing secret communications within agents' garments and accessories:

Unfashionable Clothing

Jewelry and Adornments

Reimagined Textiles

Case Study: The Behistun Inscription Cipher

An ancient illustration of these concealment methods comes from the famous Behistun Inscription from 5th century BCE Persia:

Behistun Inscription

Figure 1. Closeup of a spy (left) depicted hiding a message in his robe in the Behistun Inscription.

This scene clearly shows a spy stealthily concealing a parchment with enemy secrets within the folds of his draped robes, demonstrating how clothing enabled covert messaging.

Impact on Espionage and History

This unfashionable wire enabled early spy craft:

Without these humble methods of wire concealment, the clandestine networks supporting ancient civilizations may have struggled to operate.


While rudimentary compared to modern technology, the unfashionable wires of antiquity were clever solutions that served ancient spies well. Simple ingenuity triumphed over the era's limitations to enable the covert communications essential to political machinations and military maneuvers that changed history.